Hotel workers on ‘weekly room check’ find body of homeless man housed there during lockdown –inquiry launched
PUBLISHED: 13:04 12 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:04 12 July 2020
An inquiry is under way into reports that the body of a homeless man found in a hotel room where he had been housed during the pandemic lockdown lay undiscovered for up to four days.
Saulius Uzdavinys had moved to Wisbech from Lithuanian to be with his brother following the death of his wife.
In his 50s, Saulius had been homeless for some time and his health conditions included severe bouts of epilepsy.
His body was discovered on Wednesday during a weekly check on rooms at the White Lion, Wisbech, by a staff member. The hotel is one of those being financed by the Government to house all rough sleepers during the lockdown.
His condition was well known among housing support teams – on Saturday May 23 he had a serious seizure in St Peter’s Gardens, Wisbech. Two passers-by raised the alarm and an ambulance was called.
“My friend and I met at 10am during the lockdown to have a chat,” said one of the men.
“We were having a wander around and saw a man lying on the floor, apparently drunk.
“We tried to see if he was ok and to wake him up. He was alive but it was obvious he was not in a good way.” One of the men called 111 and was directed to the ambulance service.
“The ambulance was there within 10 minutes; the man had a container of alcohol with him; I was going to put it in the bin but the ambulance men needed to know what he had been drinking.”
The passer-by added: “We were able to identify him by calling 50 Backpacks who knew him. It’s possible he could have a had a fit and passed out – the presence of alcohol suggests it was a combination of both.”
As of Friday night, Fenland District Council, that oversees the Government funding and works with organisations such as the Ferry Project, to tackle homelessness could not confirm how long Mr Uzdavinys had been dead before his body was found.
David Wright, the council’s policy and communications manager, said: “We were very saddened to hear of this death and we send our condolences to the family of those who are bereaved.”
“At the moment we do not know the full circumstances surrounding this sad event and we are actively seeking more information.”
Cllr Sam Hoy, portfolio holder for housing at Fenland Council, says she understood that a support group were overseeing care for Mr Usdavinys and he had “engaged well” with those at the agency.
However, that statement is at odds with my investigation into how homeless people were being cared for at the White Lion.
Staff – who stayed on whilst the hotel was ‘block booked’ to house the homeless – say they have been left badly shaken by the discovery of the body of Mr Usdavinys.
They had previously expressed concerned at not being trained health workers and not equipped to deal with guests with medical conditions.
“It is not just about putting them under a roof – it is about providing them with the care they need,” one said.
Another felt “a little raw after the body was found. We feel he was let down – badly.”
The coroner for Cambridgeshire, David Heming, will determine the cause and time of death
According to those close to hotel workers, concerns had been raised specifically about Mr Usdavinys in recent months after noticing his loss of weight. Others housed there had appeared to be adjusting well and even putting on weight, said one.
Two weeks after raising their concerns, a worker visited the hotel to see Mr Usdavinys and staff were assured of a return visit to monitor progress and his welfare. But according to staff no-one returned, and no housing support worker was to see him alive again.
In his statement on behalf of Fenland Council, Mr Wright said: “All of our clients have been risk assessed and we interact with each of our clients based on their individual risk assessment.
“Once we have more information, we are committed to reflecting on this sad situation to ensure we are supporting our clients to the best of our abilities.”
Cllr Hoy promised she would investigate the support network put in place for Mr Usdavinys and the number of times he had been personally seen and his progress monitored. She said she had been assured his progress was good and that there had been plans to find accommodation for both Mr Usdavinys and his brother, who is also homeless.
Last year Saulius was featured on a video shown to housing groups and MP Steve Barclay during a one-day conference at the Friends Meeting House to look at modern day slavery.
One of those videos was by Jake Bowers, Travellers Times Online Editor, who interviewed Saulius, one of six Lithuanians living at the time in a woodland camp on the outskirts of Wisbech.
Saulius showed Jake the tent in which he was living, and described the harshness of conditions.
Poignantly he described to Jake how he moved into the camp after losing his passport.
Saulius is known to have had two daughters, and it is thought one of them lives in North London.
His brother Sigitas has been receiving numerous messages of condolence.
He posted on social media after his brother’s death: “Let’s remember the sun, forever!!”
Another wrote: “Sunshine rest in peace; sad”.
Anita Grodiewicz of the Rosmini Centre, Wisbech, has spent years working with the homeless in the town, many of them originally from European countries.
She is concerned about the reports of Saulius not being cared for adequately but is awaiting a fuller report.
Mr Grodiewicz says so far as she is aware, those put into the White Lion and other hotels are only provided with a room, a weekly food parcel delivered to the hotel, and a mobile phone.
Her centre provides lunch for around 20 homeless people daily whilst breakfast and dinner for many is offered by 50 Backpacks in Bridge Street.
The Rosmini has been awash with speculation about the death of Saulius and she hopes an investigation will ensure the promised levels of care and support had been put in place.
Cllr Hoy said she had “no reasons to believe there were any concerns, as far I am aware”.
She said the hotel had contact details for Fenland Council to raise concerns.
When the country went into lockdown, she said, 18 people in the Wisbech night shelter were forced to move out once it closed.
The council was faced with providing accommodation for 57 homeless people and with Government support were able to offer two outreach workers to help with them.
She said it was, and continues to be, a challenging time for the council and it is looking to see how much long-term Government support will be forthcoming.
That was a topic raised two weeks ago by Fenland Council leader Chris Boden when he spoke about Covid-19 and homelessness on a webinar hosted by the Local Government Association.
“For us as a council, with 57 rough sleepers in a small rural town, it has been both challenging and rewarding to remove rough sleepers from the streets, with the spirit of partnership at the heart of our work,” he said
“When lockdown commenced, essentially, we already had a robust support mechanism and infrastructure in place… including a day hub, a hostel and a night shelter… and within this infrastructure we have support workers, outreach workers and a rough sleeper co-ordinator.
“Whilst the challenge at the time that the Covid-19 emergency started was significant, we quickly mobilised our vulnerable rough sleepers into temporary accommodation, including relocating those in shared sleeping arrangements in the night shelter.
“We provided each of our rough sleepers with a mobile phone to enable support workers to keep in touch on a daily basis. We supplied food parcels to everyone. All our rough sleepers were registered with GPs and the approach to do so has been recognised as best practice by our CCG and by public health”.
He said: “Each rough sleeper we housed had a support plan and for many this was the first time off the streets in a long time. All of our rough sleepers were given translated information to keep them safe, we have also arranged for hepatitis C testing. “
Cllr Boden said the costs of the accommodation provision and food had been challenging. After three months the additional Covid-19 costs for rough sleepers alone was £211,000.
“The projection is that our additional Covid-19 costs for rough sleepers and homelessness for the year will exceed £1,000,000, these extra costs amounting to almost 10 per cent of the council’s whole annual budget,” he said.
“We’ve so far had only a very small proportion of our additional Covid-19 costs reimbursed from central government. This is a major ongoing worry and concern to our council.”
Going forward, Cllr Boden struck an optimistic note for all the homeless.
“We have a plan for each of our rough sleepers and are committed to no one returning to rough sleeping if at all possible,” he said.
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